The Lasting Effect Of The Salem Witch Trials
Literature often portrays the 17th century because of its importance throughout history. These stories readily capture readers’ attention when they both reflect and impact the time period that they were written about. The Crucible was written about the Salem Witch Trials of 1963, where women were accused of witchcraft and were hung or jailed regardless of whether or not they were guilty. It accurately reflected the time period because it is a dramatized account of the historical event. The author uses the dramatization in The Crucible to their advantage in order to depict the Salem Witch trials in an engaging way that leaves readers analyzing the time period and the events that were to follow in the late 17th century.
The 17th century was an important year in terms of the history of the United States. Long before the infamous Salem Witch Trials that marked the 1600s, the first American witch hunt took place in Hartford, Connecticut. According to HISTORY, in March 1662 the daughter of John and Bethia kelly passed away after returning home with Goodwife Ayres. The accusations began with the family, and a newfound hysteria took over Hartford, the same town that witnessed the first execution of a witch. Although the hysteria had not completely taken shape, witchcraft was one of twelve capital crimes. Seven trials and four executions took hold (A&E Television Networks). This evidence is important because the Hartford witch hunt was the first one on a larger scale. It secured women’s roles in the US at the time as subordinate to men. Thirty-one years however, began the world renowned Salem Witch Trials. It began the same way, a young girl fell sick and the family experienced mysterious happenings. The doctor concluded that it was witchcraft and the family looked to accuse those who caused them pain. Over the course of a year, twenty women were executed and hundreds accused. When the hysteria began to die down, HISTORY says, “Executions ceased, and the Superior Court eventually released all those awaiting trial and pardoned those sentenced to death” (A&E Television Networks). This is important because families were suffering as they lost their loved ones to the ideologies of witchcraft. It took a year for society to notice immoralities of the late 17th century. Lastly, to follow the Salem Witch Trials, the Enlightenment took place in Britain. It began in the 17th century spread rapidly to Europe. They were known to be individualists with the desire to question authority and believed that change was the answer to improving humanity. Like the witch hunts, the Enlightenment produced many kinds of media that are lasting into modern day (History). It is important to recognize similarities from the Enlightenment to what was happening around the world. Similarly, people of the various witch hunts needed to question authority in order to protect their loved ones. Historical events are often known to result of another and that was an important concept in the 1600s.
The Crucible is a play written in 1952 that serves as a dramatized account of the Salem Witch Trials in 1693. The playwright uses characters and events from the time period and brings them to life through a script. The dramatic details and character depth engage readers and tell the story of the hysteria that took hold in Salem. In the text, amid all of the accusations of the witch hunt, the court had a tendency to trust the word of the accuser. Abigail, a young girl, accuses Elizabeth of witchcraft because of personal motives. Proctor asks Reverend Hale, “Why do you never wonder if Parris be innocent, or Abigail? Is the accuser always holy now?” (Miller). This quote is important because Proctor expresses his concern with the honesty of the court, because it was impossible to tell who was innocent and who was guilty, and if they were guilty because they were making false accusations. By accusing someone else, Abigail protects herself and is able to manipulate the justice system. This quote is reflective of the motives from the time period it was written about because the court during the trials was reliant on the accusers. They never considered, or ignored the possibility that they may be presenting false accusations and many accusations were deliberately putting women in dangerous situations. The quote is reflective of the time period because it is a representation of the injustice that women faced. Alternatively, there were some women that confessed to witchcraft during the 1600s that is featured in the text.. Tituba and Sarah Good both confessed to the accusations, causing authoritative figure to believe that it must be true, but Proctor considers that they confessed in order to avoid being hung. He states, “And why not, if they must hang for denyin’ it? There are them that will swear to anything before they’ll hang; have you never thought of that” (Miller). This quote is important because it gave way to flaws within the court system at the time. The characters are beginning to question the validity of the sentencing, reinforcing the beliefs of the time period because the court automatically assumed a woman was guilty if she was accused of witchcraft. This led to loss of twenty lives during the Salem Witch Trials and the long term suffering of many women and families. They way that society reacted to such unfair rulings was similar to those during the Enlightenment. They felt the urge to stand up to authority, especially for something unjust. However, it was not socially and culturally acceptable during the 17th century to do so. Luckily, the Enlightenment provided this opportunity. Lastly, the authorities responsible throughout The Crucible essentially saw the world in black and white. Danforth, an honorable man says, “You must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. This is a sharp time, now, a precise time—we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world. Now, by God’s grace, the shining sun is up, and them that fear not light will surely praise it” (Miller). This quote shows that Danforth believed that there was a right and a wrong way to live through their beliefs that were influenced by religion. According to the characters as well as people of the time period, society believed that everything either belonged to God or the Devil, and if someone questioned the court, it was apparent that they supported the Devil.
While The Crucible reflects ideas and events of the 17th century through dramatization, its readers can become easily engaged and carry the story through the modern society that surrounds them. A common theme throughout the play was that while the Salem Witch Trials were taking place, the characters had individual struggles that they were facing. According to LitReactor, “The play struggles through personal failings and despairs, presenting characters that allow for audience members or readers to find some part of themselves in” (Lathrop). The column explains that because the play captures these human emotions and recognizes the significance of them, readers are open to criticizing the society that they live in (Lathrop). This can perpetuate change in behavior on both a micro or macro scale, if the message reaches others than the readers themselves. Another aspect of The Crucible that is relevant today is the various awards and worldwide attention that it has received since being released. It is critically acclaimed, including being nominated for the Golden Globes, Oscars and other prestigious awards. To add, over six million copies have been produced (Mental Floss). This is important because the contents of The Crucible have resonated with the readers. Not only do they learn about an important event in American history, they follow an engaging story with complex characters that they can relate to. The author carefully wrote the play with a great understanding of human behavior which evidently appealed to readers. Arthur Miller, the playwright, later came out with Why I Wrote the Crucible, which explained this idea from his point of view. He told The New Yorker, “But below its concerns with justice the play evokes a lethal brew of illicit sexuality, fear of the supernatural, and political manipulation, a combination not unfamiliar these days” (Miller). This shows the ingredients that the playwright used to create a story that would have a lasting impact for generations to come. He said this in 1996 and was well aware of the universal success that The Crucible had. In this quote, he expresses that the combination of themes in the story are present in the world around him. This demonstrates that readers of The Crucible appreciated it for its familiarity as well.
Since 1953, The Crucible has held an everlasting grip on its viewers because it was written with careful attention to human behavior as an important historical event took place. The Salem Witch Trials marked the 17th century where women were accused of witchcraft, but over thiry-one years before it took place, a similar hysteria took over Hartford in 1662. The Crucible also shows major connections to the Enlightenment that spread across Great Britain. Many quotes from the text demonstrate the values of society from the time period such as validity of the accusations, the flawed justice system and the mindset of the court during the actual trials. The Crucible is used to highlight how a text may reflect the time period that it was written about because it allows readers a deeper insight to the 17th century. It made note of the personal endeavors the characters faced as a widespread panic plagued their surroundings. Also, it successfully engages readers and teaches them about history. Readers have made personal and societal connections, and continue to do so today.
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